Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris 1932

“Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare” by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris 1932

Well captured, decisive, mysterious, surreal and one of Bresson's most famous pictures: a man leaps in order to cross an immense puddle on the Place de l’Europe in Paris – and is photographed in mid-leap by Henri Cartier-Bresson. The photograph is animated by a binary rhythm. Apart from the reflections in the water, whose extent and depth are unfathomable, there are further doppelganger details behind the Gare Saint-Lazare: the metal rings strewn about, the circus posters in the background, the stylised dancer and the “jumper”, both seen like silhouettes, but also the rings and circular waves evoked by a water landing – in the imagination of the viewer.

Structured by a baffling interplay of geometrical forms, this image can be considered a masterpiece of the photographic self-concept for which Cartier-Bresson coined a much-quoted formula thirty years later, using the expression of the “decisive moment”. It implies the conscious yet intuitive selection of a scene, the credo of perfect composition, eschewing artificial light and telephoto lenses, and respect for one’s surroundings. Thus, the Magnum co-founder and legendary Leica photographer revolutionised 20th century photography – in this case with his first Leica, a Leica I Mod. A he had bought in Marseilles in 1932 – the same year this picture was taken.

Photo credit: © WestLicht Photographica Auction